Schools across the nation focus on building skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. This mindset encourages learners to apply their knowledge.
People of all ages are inspired by the idea of making the world a better place. By incorporating sustainability in your classroom – both as a mindset and as a pedagogy – teachers like you are inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards and shaping students into global citizens.
What is Sustainability?
The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development states: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”
Here are some ways you can infuse sustainability into your classroom:
“Green” Your Lessons
Sustainability boils down to using resources wisely to ensure the ongoing capacity to maintain life and provide for future generations. By providing engaging content and hands-on activities, and leading through example, teachers can empower learners to take an active role in the sustainability movement.
Below are some suggestions for easy-to-do activities with a sustainability theme for middle school students from PLT’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide. Use these activities to supplement your curriculum for teaching core subject areas including not only science, but also math, reading, writing, social studies, and more.
Each PLT activity is designed to guide learners through the process of awareness, understanding, challenge, motivation, and action by developing skills such as observing, analyzing, problem-solving, and decision making.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Activity 14 – Renewable or Not
Students often do not know which resources are renewable and which are nonrenewable, or which are recyclable or reusable. In this activity, students will learn what these terms mean and discover why sustainable use of natural resources is so important.
Activity 37 – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
By taking a look at their own trash, your students will learn a lot about how and why they throw things away. Students will also conduct a service-learning project, and in doing so, find ways to cut down on the waste they produce and improve how waste is managed in their community.
Activity 83 – A Peek at Packaging
Nearly everything we buy comes in some sort of package. Packaging, made from a variety of renewable and nonrenewable resources, is necessary to protect an item, keep it fresh, make it tamper-proof, and make the item easy to transport and store. In this activity, students will examine the pros and cons of different packaging strategies.
Here are more ideas to incorporate reducing, reusing, and recycling:
- Appoint a “recycling monitor” to remind classmates of ways items can be recycled and reused.
- Explore how to reduce single-use plastic to protect the environment.
- Up-cycle classroom scraps to create models, artwork, and projects. Try some of these animal art projects made with recycled materials.
- Engage your class in a Waste & Recycling Investigation to determine how much waste their school generates and where it goes, and get them to design a project to start or expand school-wide recycling and composting efforts.
Activity 39 – Energy Sleuths
There are different sources of energy. Some are renewable; some are nonrenewable. In this activity, your students will learn about the different sources, advantages, and disadvantages to their use, and how energy is used in their daily lives.
Activity 73 – Waste Watchers
Energy seems easy to use, but obtaining it is often not easy on the environment. When we reduce the amount of energy we use, we decrease the pollution that results from producing that energy. In this activity, your students conduct an audit of the energy they use in their own homes and create an action plan to reduce energy use.
Teaching your students about energy does not need to be complicated. It can be as easy as modeling ways to use resources wisely:
- Lead a discussion to assess where in the classroom electricity might be being wasted and remind your students to turn off and unplug devices when they are not being used.
- Replace traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs.
- Help students understand how the choices they make have an impact on the planet using an online “carbon calculator.”
- Engage your class in an Energy Investigation to determine how much energy their school uses, the primary sources of that energy, and ways to implement energy-saving strategies.
Inspire Sustainable Attitudes
Activity 19 – Viewpoints on the Line
This activity is designed to get students thinking about their own views while also listening to those of their classmates. It helps students explore the underlying assumptions that shape our opinions.
Activity 86 – Our Changing World
Patterns of change are evident in the Earth’s global systems, particularly as they relate to both energy and resources. To help students see how changing one aspect of our world affects others, students make a graphic organizer connecting natural resources, energy, and human activities. They also research a global issue, thereby gaining an understanding of some of the issues facing us today as a global society.
Activity 92 – A Look at Lifestyles
By examining the historical attitudes of American Indians and American pioneers toward the environment and natural resources, students can reflect on their own lifestyles, and identify trade-offs between simple subsistence and the modern technology-based living.
Be careful not to bombard students with the doom and gloom of growing environmental concerns. Focus on examples of change that are having a positive impact:
- Share success stories such as ways environmental policies and movements have reduced pollution or reversed diminishing populations of unique organisms.
- Share examples of how young environmentalists have made a difference.
- Share examples from other Green Schools to inspire your students to design and complete an action project to improve their environment and health.
Want more ideas, in-depth training, and ready-to-use activities and lesson plans for your classroom? Check out these resources:
- Attend a training with PLT, either in person or online.
- Register (for free!) to access PLT’s GreenSchools Investigations and become a PLT GreenSchool
- Visit Green Teacher, another non-profit organization dedicated to helping educators, both inside and outside of schools, promote environmental awareness among young people.
- Look at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet) and 10 key actions we can take in our daily life to tackle climate change. Check out these Student Resources for learning about sustainable development from an early age.
Teachers play a vital role in preparing students to meet future challenges. But as the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” Leading a sustainable lifestyle and sharing your journey with students will be one of the most powerful ways you can inspire a new generation of environmental stewards and leaders.